Even Joe Paterno Must Be Accountable

Penn State Coach's Legacy Will Live On After Sex Scandal

Tarnished Hero: Penn State fans posing next to a statue of ex-coach Joe Paterno. The revered figure was fired over his role in a child sex scandal involving a former coach.
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Tarnished Hero: Penn State fans posing next to a statue of ex-coach Joe Paterno. The revered figure was fired over his role in a child sex scandal involving a former coach.

By Laurie Stern

Published November 15, 2011, issue of November 25, 2011.
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But occasionally I’ll look to my right or left and be alarmed by the sea of faces cheering and dancing around me unabashedly, uncritically.

We have been groomed to be this way since the first day of freshman year. It’s one of the reasons that the school boasts the largest dues-paying alumni association in the world. It’s all for one, one for all, and keeping that mantra intact was part of what led to the administration’s failings.

Avodah zarah, or idolatry, is a dangerous thing. In the wake of the press conference announcement of Paterno’s firing, some fans chose to rake his leaves and to shower him and his family with gifts of flowers and balloons. Shouts of “We love you, Joe” could be heard each time the door of his modest home was opened. Suddenly the Sandusky case became about Paterno and his tarnished legacy instead of the children who may have suffered at the hand of a pedophile.

Paterno needed to go in order for the university to affirm that authority figures are not immune from accountability for their actions, or in this case, their inactions. And though it hurts — as sudden change after 46 years of stability surely does — it’s the only way for the Penn State community to begin to heal.

There has been talk of dismantling the bronze statue of Paterno that sits outside the football stadium walls, and of erasing his likeness from community murals and renaming buildings. Penn Staters aren’t sure if it’s still okay to drink coffee out of a “We love our Joe” mug or to wear a “Joe Knows Football” T-shirt. The Big Ten athletic conference has already removed his name from the championship trophy.

It would be impossible, unthinkable, to try to erase him from the hearts and memories of the community. Instead, the name Paterno should serve as a catalyst for change. It will be a reminder that the safety and welfare of human beings, particularly children, will always reign supreme over the power of men, the public image of a school, or the outcome of a football game.

Laurie Stern, a former Forward intern, is a senior at Penn State and an investigative reporter on the school’s paper.


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